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NFL year begins, but free agent signings aren’t official thanks to coronavirus

The main problem is players cannot take physicals and sign their deals, and team personnel can’t travel to meet players.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) breaks up a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans during the first half of their game Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) breaks up a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans during the first half of their game Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Mar. 19, 2020|Updated Mar. 19, 2020

Like the rest of everyday life that has been upended by the new coronavirus pandemic, the start of NFL free agency on Wednesday was anything but normal, with Tom Brady’s deal with the Buccaneers and most every other one in semi-limbo.

Free agent contracts and trades agreed upon in recent days or weeks won’t become official until players can undergo physicals and sign their new deals — meaning they aren’t being paid under their new deals. The NFL has barred travel to team facilities by free agents and also has banned team personnel from traveling to meet with players as a safeguard against the new coronavirus.

Several people familiar with a memo the league sent to the 32 teams on Tuesday night tell The Associated Press that while teams can announce reaching agreements with free agents or concluding trades, nothing is official. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the information has not been made public by the NFL or the teams.

Although information on dozens of contract agreements and a slew of trades has been leaked, teams were not allowed to complete the deals until the 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday start of the 2020 NFL business year. However, all of those transactions now come with the caveat that the signings and physicals need to occur.

Of course, if a club drafts a contract and sends it digitally to a player, he can sign it remotely and send it back to the team. Then teams must submit it to the league and that would constitute official signing. But few, if any, teams would be willing to do that without conducting a physical.

Players can undergo physicals locally, but many teams have expressed being uncomfortable with such an arrangement.

The new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough in most cases, with severe illness more likely in the elderly and those with existing health problems.

A.J. Bouye, whom Denver acquired from Jacksonville two weeks ago and who took his physical in Denver before the coronavirus pandemic brought daily life across the globe to a near standstill, said he’s working out on his own and will reach out to his new teammates remotely.

“They could always get my number. I could reach out to them through social media,” Bouye said Wednesday, adding, “One thing about it, I’m just focused more on working out also. I have everything set up at home (in Atlanta). My trainer is with me, so I’m definitely good with that.”

Among the players moving in free agency in one of the busiest years of action are such stars as Brady, Philip Rivers and Jason Witten. While they certainly can afford to wait for everything to become official, it’s a strange dynamic in what, of course, is a strange time.

The NFL has delayed the offseason schedule of practices amid the uncertainty — meetings and organized team activities (OTAs) would have begun in April. Becoming familiar with new surroundings, teammates and coaching staffs for the likes of veterans Brady, Rivers and Witten — who collectively spent 52 years with their original teams — and the dozens of other players changing addressed must wait.

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Several of Brady’s ex-teammates are also leaving Foxborough and many of them are reuniting with former Patriots assistants Matt Patricia in Detroit and Brian Flores in Miami.

Linebacker Jamie Collins (three years, $30 million) and defensive tackle Danny Shelton (two years, $8 million) are headed to Detroit, which also acquired safety Duron Harmon from the Patriots. Linebacker Elandon Roberts is expected to follow linebacker Kyle Van Noy (four years, $51 million) and O-lineman Ted Karras to the Dolphins.

While Brady’s representatives and the Buccaneers worked out details of their contract, teams went ahead with their plans to bolster their rosters amid all the uncertainty:

DOLPHINS: From tanking to banking, the Dolphins have been the busiest team on a spending spree, committing a whopping $133 million in guarantees to seven players.

After making Byron Jones the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, the Dolphins also have agreed to deals with C Ted Karras, LB Kyle Van Noy, DEs Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, RB Jordan Howard and G Ereck Flowers. The total value of the new deals is more than $222 million.

That’s big change — and a big change for a franchise that began stockpiling money and draft picks a year ago with a roster dismantling so drastic Miami used an NFL record 84 players and was accused of tanking.

BRONCOS: A day after losing out on NT D.J. Reader to the Bengals, the Broncos made their second big trade by acquiring five-time Pro Bowl DL Jurrell Casey from the Tennessee Titans for a 2020 seventh-round pick, people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.

Casey, due $11.2 million this season and under contract through 2022, plugs a gaping hole on Denver’s D-line just as the free agent acquisition of C-G Graham Glasgow (four years, $44 million) fills a big need on the O-line.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh turned the opening day of free agency into a family affair for the Watt family, agreeing to terms with OLB T.J. Watt’s older brother, FB Derek Watt, on a three-year contract worth $9.75 million.

“‘Come to Pittsburgh’. IT WORKED!!! Welcome to #SteelerNation,” T.J. Watt posted on Instagram along with a picture of the two brothers talking on the field while Watt was still with the Chargers.

Their other brother, J.J. Watt, is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year for Houston.

CARDINALS: Arizona bolstered its struggling defense by agreeing to deals with DL Jordan Phillips and LB Devon Kennard. But as has usually been the case over the past year in Arizona, the loudest buzz is surrounding the offense. Arizona’s biggest move came on Monday, when the team added elite WR DeAndre Hopkins in a trade with Houston that sent RB David Johnson to the Texans.

CHARGERS: CB Chris Harris Jr. is remaining in the AFC West after agreeing to a contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, a person familiar with the situation told the AP. Harris spent nine seasons in Denver, anchoring the “No Fly Zone” defense that helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.

SAINTS: Veteran free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins has agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract with the New Orleans Saints a person familiar with the situation said.

Jenkins returns to the team that made him a first-round draft choice out of Ohio State in 2009. Jenkins, 32, has played 11 NFL seasons — his first five with the Saints and past six with the Philadelphia Eagles, who declined to pick up his option for the 2020 season.

COLTS: The Colts have confirmed they have acquired All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner for next month’s first-round draft pick, No. 13 overall.

Here is a time-marked rundown by The Associated Press of Wednesday’s NFL moves. All times Eastern:

10:05 p.m.

Darius Slay is apparently ready to leave Detroit.

ESPN, citing an unidentified source, reported Wednesday night that cornerback Desmond Trufant had agreed to a two-year deal with the Lions. Slay, who is currently Detroit’s top player at that position, tweeted in response to that reported deal that he also wanted out.

“Congrats to my guy!!!! Hope that speeds up my trade process!!”

It would not be a surprise if Slay were dealt, but that activity on his Twitter account added more drama to Detroit’s offseason.

Slay has played all seven of his NFL seasons with the Lions.

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8:40 p.m.

The Giants sent, or are in the process of sending, a letter to their season ticket holders regarding payment for season tickets.

There are two plans. A six-month payment plan and a one-time pay-in-full option.

Those in the sixth month plan had already paid one month. They will get two months deferred and then have five payments. The payment plan will run through May-Sept. Those in the pay-in-full plan will not have to pay until June 1.

They can also elect a four-month option for more flexibility.

7:55 p.m.

The Cleveland Browns have a contract agreement with free agent linebacker B.J. Goodson, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

After getting four new offensive players over the past two days, general manager Andrew Berry worked out a deal with Goodson, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract can’t be finalized until a physical is completed.

Goodson could replace Joe Schobert, who was allowed to walk away by the Browns and agreed to a five-year, $53 million deal with Jacksonville on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-1, 243-pound Goodson, who played at Clemson, started nine games last season for Green Bay. He played the previous three seasons with the New York Giants.

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7:15 p.m.

The Seattle Seahawks have added another piece to their offensive line and a potential starting right tackle after agreeing to an $11 million, two-year deal with Brandon Shell, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the signing. ESPN first reported the agreement.

Shell started 25 games over the past two seasons for the Jets and played almost exclusively at right tackle. The 28-year-old was benched briefly last season, but started the final five games of the season.

He could end up being the replacement for Germain Ifedi, who has started the past four seasons at right tackle for Seattle with mixed results and is a free agent.

Shell was a fifth-round pick of the Jets out of South Carolina in 2016.

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6:55 p.m.

Veteran free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins has agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract with the New Orleans Saints a person familiar with the situation said.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the agreement has not been announced.

Jenkins returns to the team that made him a first-round draft choice out of Ohio State in 2009. Jenkins, 32, has played 11 NFL seasons — his first five with the Saints and past six with the Philadelphia Eagles, who declined to pick up his option for the 2020 season.

Last season, Jenkins started all 16 games for Philadelphia and made or assisted on 81 tackles, including six tackles for losses and 2 1/2 sacks.

He also forced four fumbles and recovered one. He has 17 interceptions but had none last season. The signing comes as Saints safety Vonn Bell, a 2016 second-round draft choice, enters free agency for the first time.

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6:40 p.m.

The Indianapolis Colts have confirmed they have acquired All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner for next month’s first-round draft pick, No. 13 overall.

The deal was first reported Monday but Indianapolis had to wait until the official start of the league year to make it official. Buckner also signed a four-year deal worth $84 million, making him the second-highest paid defensive tackle in the league.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard wanted to upgrade Indy’s interior pass rush and found a perfect fit in Buckner, who had a career-high 12 sacks in 2018 and 7 1/2 sacks for last season’s NFC champions.

“DeForest is a premier defensive tackle in this league and we’re thrilled to add him to our roster,” Ballard said in a statement. “Adding a player of his caliber demonstrates the importance and commitment of building a strong defensive front. He will bring a veteran presence to our locker room and will lead with his work ethic.”

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6:15 p.m.

The Seattle Seahawks are reuniting with an old friend, bringing back former first-round pick Bruce Irvin, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the agreement. NFL Network first reported the reunion.

Irvin will be a boost to Seattle’s pass rush that needed attention. He had a career-high 8½ sacks and 16 quarterback hits last season in just 13 games during his one year with Carolina. Both those totals would have led Seattle. He also made stops with Oakland and Atlanta after leaving Seattle following the 2015 season.

Irvin, 32, was a first-round pick of the Seahawks in 2012.

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5:55 p.m.

The Arizona Cardinals have agreed to a three-year deal with linebacker Devon Kennard, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person spoke with AP on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been announced. Kennard played the past two years with the Detroit Lions, including all 16 games last season and tied a career high with seven sacks.

The Cardinals are trying to improve a defense that gave up the most yards in the NFL last season. He gives them another big-play threat to pair with edge rusher Chandler Jones, who had 19 sacks last season.

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5:25 p.m.

The Minnesota Vikings have terminated the contract of starting right guard Josh Kline after just one season.

The move was made about an hour into the official start of free agency. The Vikings will save about $1.5 million in salary-cap charges, but they’ll have to carry forward about $4.5 million in dead money.

Kline started 15 of 18 games, including two in the playoffs. He missed two games because of a concussion and one to a foot injury. Kline previously played for New England and Tennessee. He signed a three-year contract with the Vikings prior to last season that came with $7.25 million guaranteed.

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5:10 p.m.

A person with knowledge of the deal says left tackle Andrew Whitworth has agreed to a three-year deal to return to the Los Angeles Rams.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Rams haven’t announced the deal with the 38-year-old Whitworth, who will play his 15th NFL season in the fall.

Whitworth spent 11 years with the Cincinnati Bengals before joining the Rams as a free agent under new coach Sean McVay. The four-time Pro Bowl selection has been an anchor on the Rams’ line while protecting Jared Goff’s blind side all the way to his first career playoff victories and his first Super Bowl appearance during the 2018 season.

Whitworth hasn’t missed a game because of injury since 2013, and he has missed just two games in which he wasn’t being rested healthy since 2008.

He strongly considered retirement after the Super Bowl a year ago, but seemed much more determined to play on this winter after the Rams missed the playoffs despite finishing 9-7.

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4:55 p.m.

Former Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye is officially a member of the Denver Broncos.

The teams announced the trade minutes after the new league year began Wednesday, more than two weeks after it was agreed upon. The Jaguars got a fourth-round pick in the upcoming draft for the 28-year-old veteran and 2017 Pro Bowl starter.

Bouye is due $13 million in each of the next two seasons. He has 14 interceptions in seven NFL seasons with Houston and Jacksonville.

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4:50 p.m.

Chris Harris Jr. is remaining in the AFC West after agreeing to a contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, a person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because deals can not be announced until the completion of a physical. ESPN was the first to report Harris Jr.’s move.

Harris Jr. has spent the past nine seasons with the Denver Broncos and made four Pro Bowl appearances. He built his reputation as one of the top slot corners in the league, but played exclusively on the outside last season.

Harris Jr. joins a Chargers secondary that includes cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Desmond King as well as safety Derwin James.

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4:30 p.m.

A person familiar with the deal says the Atlanta Falcons have agreed to sign former Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because most teams won’t announce signings until players pass physicals to finalize deals.

The league isn’t allowing players to report to new teams immediately for those physicals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The three-year, $48 million deal reunites Fowler with Falcons coach Dan Quinn. Fowler, a former Lakewood High standout, was a freshman at the University of Florida in 2012, when Quinn was the Gators’ defensive coordinator.

Fowler was a first-round pick by Jacksonville in 2015 who set a career high with 11 1/2 sacks for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. He set another career high by starting 14 of his 16 games.

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4:15 p.m.

Versatile Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Austin Blythe has agreed to a one-year deal to return.

Blythe has started all but one game over the past two seasons with the Rams after serving as a backup in 2017. Blythe has started at left guard, right guard and center during his career with the Rams, who claimed him off waivers from Indianapolis in May 2017.

Blythe claimed the starting job at right guard in 2018 after Jamon Brown was suspended, and he never gave it up. Blythe started for Los Angeles in the Super Bowl in February 2019.

Blythe moved to left guard for the 2019 season, but slid over to center after Brian Allen was injured.

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3:55 p.m.

A person familiar with the deal says free agent cornerback Eli Apple has agreed to a contract with the Las Vegas Raiders.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal can’t be announced until Apple passes a physical. The Bay Area News Group first reported the deal.

Apple is the latest free agent addition to agree to the Raiders this week as part of a defensive overhaul. Linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, safety Jeff Heath and defensive end Carl Nassib, according to people familiar with the deals speaking on condition of anonymity because the contracts haven’t been signed.

Apple was the 10th overall pick by the Giants in 2016 before being traded to New Orleans midway through the 2018 season. He has three interceptions and 33 passes defensed in 55 games.

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3:50 p.m.

The Washington Redskins are signing safety Sean Davis to a one-year contract that can be worth up to $5 million.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus conformed the deal in an email to The Associated Press. Davis is a Washington native who played at the University of Maryland.

The 26-year-old missed the vast majority of last season with a shoulder injury. Davis has 247 tackles and five interceptions in 48 games with the Pittsburgh Steelers since they drafted him in the second round in 2016.

The Redskins are retooling in free agency under new coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. They already came to terms on contracts with linebackers Thomas Davis and Kevin Pierre-Louis and re-signed Jon Bostic.

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3:45 p.m.

A person with knowledge of the deal says the Los Angeles Rams have agreed to a one-year contract worth $10 million with pass-rushing linebacker Leonard Floyd.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Rams hadn’t announced the agreement.

Floyd spent his first four NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears, who chose him with the ninth overall pick in 2016. He had seven sacks in his rookie season, but his totals have declined in each subsequent season. The Bears released him Tuesday.

Floyd’s position coach for the past two seasons with the Bears was Brandon Staley, the Rams’ new defensive coordinator. Floyd also played two seasons at Georgia with Rams running back Todd Gurley.

Floyd likely will be the effective replacement for Dante Fowler, who is leaving the Rams for a lucrative deal with the Atlanta Falcons after a strong season in 2019. The Rams also have lost leading tackler Cory Littleton and longtime defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the opening days of free agency.

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3:15 p.m.

The Buffalo Bills have signed cornerback Josh Norman to a one-year contract in hopes the eighth-year player can secure a starting job opposite Tre’Davious White.

The contract was first agreed to on March 9, and announced by the team Wednesday. Norman was available after struggling to meet expectations before being cut by Washington last month with one year left on his five-year, $75 million contract.

His addition fills an immediate need with the Bills allowing Kevin Johnson to become a free agent. Norman will compete with returning starter Levi Wallace for the No. 2 spot.

The 32-year-old is reunited with familiar faces in Buffalo. Bills coach Sean McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator during Norman’s first four NFL seasons in Carolina. Norman is also a known commodity to Bills general manager Brandon Beane, who worked in the Panthers’ front office at the same time.

Norman enjoyed his best season under McDermott in 2015 on a Panthers defense that led the league with 24 interceptions. He had a career-best four interceptions and returned two for touchdowns to earn his first and only All-Pro honor.

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2:45 p.m.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph has agreed to a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Two people familiar with the deal tell The Associated Press that Joseph’s contract is for $17 million but could go as high as $19 million with additional incentives. The signing could be announced later Wednesday when the new league year begins.

Joseph will be entering his 11th season. He was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants in 2010 and has spent the past six years with the Minnesota Vikings. He was released last week in a salary cap move.

Joseph’s forte is run stopping and he should pair well with defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Los Angeles was in the market for a defensive tackle after releasing Brandon Mebane last week.

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2:30 p.m.

The New York Jets are re-signing cornerback Brian Poole to a one-year, $5 million fully guaranteed contract, agent Drew Rosenhaus tells The Associated Press.

Poole was the Jets’ best cornerback last season in Gregg Williams’ defense, playing in the nickel spot. He had 62 tackles, one interception he returned 15 yards for a touchdown, six passes defensed and a forced fumble in 14 games with 10 starts. He missed two games late in the season with a head injury, but returned for the final two.

The 27-year-old Poole spent his first three NFL seasons with Atlanta after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Florida. He signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Jets in free agency last year.

Poole has five career interceptions and five sacks in his four NFL seasons.

The move Wednesday is the first of the free agency period by the Jets that didn’t involve an offensive lineman. General manager Joe Douglas re-signed guard Alex Lewis and has agreed to terms with former Seattle tackle George Fant and former Denver center Connor McGovern since the NFL’s legal tampering period began Monday.

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2:20 p.m.

The Panthers have released safety Eric Reid just 13 months after giving him a three-year contract extension.

Reid announced the move on Twitter, saying he enjoyed his time with Carolina and that he’s looking forward to furthering his career in another city. The Panthers later confirmed that Reid has been released.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney gave Reid a $22 million, three-year contract extension after the 2018 season that included a $9 million signing bonus. The move means the Panthers will be on the hook for $5 million in dead cap money.

The Panthers re-signed safety Tre Boston to a three-year, $18 million contract on Tuesday and have also agreed to terms with free agent safety Juston Burris from the Browns earlier this week.

The 28-year-old Reid started 29 games over the past two seasons for the Panthers and had 201 tackles, five sacks and one interception.

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2:15 p.m.

The New England Patriots have agreed to trade safety Duron Harmon to the Detroit Lions, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the trade had not been announced.

Harmon played all seven of his previous NFL seasons with New England. He started a career-high eight games last season.

Harmon has 17 interceptions, including two last season.

Lions coach Matt Patricia has familiarity with Harmon. Patricia, now entering his third season as Detroit’s coach, was New England’s defensive coordinator before taking over the Lions.

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1:50 p.m.

A person familiar with the deal says center Ted Karras has agreed to a $4 million, one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins.

The person confirmed the agreement on condition of anonymity because the Dolphins hadn’t announced it.

Karras will replace Dan Kilgore, who is departing in free agency after starting 13 games in 2019.

Karras is a four-year veteran and former sixth-round pick who became a starter last year for the New England Patriots.

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1:20 p.m.

The Detroit Lions have agreed to a two-year, $8 million deal with defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed the deal Wednesday. Shelton started 14 games last season for the New England Patriots. He had three sacks and a forced fumble.

Shelton has played five NFL seasons — three with Cleveland and two with the Patriots.

Detroit’s defense ranked 31st in the league last season, and defensive tackle was an area of need entering free agency. The Lions released defensive tackle Damon Harrison earlier this offseason.

Shelton was a first-round draft pick by the Browns in 2015.

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1 p.m.

The Denver Broncos have acquired five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey from the Tennessee Titans.

Two people familiar with the trade tell The Associated Press that the Titans swapped Casey to Denver for a seventh-round draft pick.

The move cannot become official until the new league year begins later Wednesday, though most teams won’t announce official signings until players pass physicals to finalize deals.

However, the league isn’t allowing players to report to new teams immediately during the coronavirus crisis.

A six-time team captain, Casey was the longest-tenured player on the roster drafted by the Titans in the third round in 2011. Only punter Brett Kern has been with the franchise longer, picked up off waivers from Denver in 2009.

The defensive tackle has started 137 of 139 games played, though injuries kept him out of three games over the past two seasons. He tied for second with five sacks this past season and had a team-high 30 quarterback pressures.

But Casey is due $11.2 million this season and is under contract through 2022 with a price tag that only rises in the final two years. The Titans placed the nonexclusive rights franchise tag on NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry on Monday and could use more salary cap space to sign him to a new contract.

Tennessee also drafted Jeffery Simmons out of Mississippi State at No. 19 overall last April, and the defensive tackle was able to get two sacks playing nine games in the regular season and all of the postseason despite tearing an ACL last February.

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12:50 p.m.

The Green Bay Packers are extending the deadline for season ticket holders to pay for their 2020 tickets to June 1 to allow them more time to deal with any potential impact from the coronavirus.

The previous deadline for season ticket holders was March 31. Invoices were sent out in late February, along with a brochure outlining new pricing.

If a game is canceled and can’t be rescheduled, season ticket holders would receive a refund for the impacted games or could credit that amount to future playoff or regular-season tickets for 2021.

The same policy would apply to games that are played under conditions that prohibit fans from attending, such as if a public authority restricted gatherings to a certain number of people.

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